I am not anti-USTA. Well, I should correct that. I don't want to be anti-USTA. Yeah, they stiffed me 20 years ago from the National Team, but after all, they are the national governing body of our great country. Whether they want to be or not, they are bullies. I can't get around it.
One example is the changing of pretty much all the 10-and-under tournaments to some miniature form of tennis. Their public reasoning is something to the effect that players all over the world have used these dimensions to become champions and that it makes the game easier which will retain more players. I agree that tennis is hard to get good at from a young age and that there is definitely a place for quickstart equipment at clubs. However, the USTA is strong-arming players everywhere by making all the 10-and-under tournaments quickstart mandatory for tournament directors. And I think it will backfire.
My experience with quickstart is that a lot of clubs are using quickstart to get kids going and once kids can rally from the baseline with some success, the clubs take the kids to a yellow ball. Then once they get to this level, they start serving with yellow balls and can then play a match. After some matches, if the child's family chooses, they decide to enter tournaments. This formula makes a lot of sense. Then they find the tournaments are back to "Baby" balls. Whether it is real or perceived, this is a regression and it is seen that way by parents, the kids and often the coaches. What I am finding is that a good 8 or 9 year old who is ready for tournaments, either plays a 10's tournament with the quickstart balls once and decides he/she wants to play a "real" tournament, plays a 12's tournament and gets smoked or doesn't enter tournaments at all which is horrible for a kid who is ready to start playing the occasional tournament. That's a good way to lose a potentially interested child. This idea that kids are going to train with quickstart equipment so that they are going to be ready for quickstart tournaments is backwards.
Wayne Bryan and Robert Lansdorp have both gone on the record saying to bring back regular 10-and-under tennis and that no top players have used quickstart equipment for a very lengthy time. For different reasons, these are two of the top coaches in our country. They know what they are talking about and they don't have large camps who might be motivated to sell the idea of quickstart.
The USTA has proven time and time again that they should stay out of the player development business. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray have not gone through their national federations. Most top-American players had very little to do with the USTA player development system and don't speak well about it. For the USTA to make baby balls mandatory for the 10's is a joke and a strong-armed bully move.
Ricky Becker is the Director of Tennis at the prestigious Pine Hollow Country Club for his ninth year, coaches high-performance juniors throughout the year and has been the Director of Tennis at three of Long Island’s biggest junior programs. As a player, Becker was the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis team and ranked in the top-five nationally as a junior. He can be reached at email@example.com, 516-359-4843 or via juniortennisconsulting.com.